Family Life Stories Life

Children don’t owe their abusive parents forgiveness

My brother texted me recently asking if I had ever gotten in contact with a woman living in the city I had moved back to a few years ago. The woman in question had been friends with my stepmother when I was a child. Her daughter used to babysit my brother and me, and sometimes we would spend the night hanging out at their place. I enjoyed their company well enough but when my brother asked about contacting her, I hesitated to reach out. I eventually decided I wouldn’t. Not because I have a personal problem with that woman or her daughter. But because of her connection to my stepmother, who was emotionally abusive.

Last year, my previous therapist had come to the conclusion my issues with depression and anxiety can be partially attributed to my separation from my biological mother when I was six years old. My dad had to put a restraining order on my mother because she was violent towards him, my stepmother, my brother, and me. I haven’t seen or spoken to her since childhood. My therapist suggested I should try to reconnect with her; however, I expressed my hesitance because of her abuse. My therapist noted that my mother had been a practicing addict when I was younger. She felt there was a possibility that in the twenty or so years since we spoke, my mother could have gotten sober and changed for the better.

The thing is, while I believe society should be more empathetic towards people struggling with addiction, I don’t believe victims of child abuse should have to be among those to extend that sympathy or understanding to their abusers. In the past year, I have re-evaluated many of my relationships. And I took a certain level of satisfaction in cutting out people I had long maintained a connection with, simply because I had felt obligated to due to family history. While there are people in my life I know I need to work on forgiving, there comes a point when some relationships do need to be severed permanently.

Making the decision to block my stepmother on Facebook was an example of having reached this point. After she and my dad divorced when we were children, my brother and I put on a show of missing her and being devastated by the separation. I don’t think we knew that was what we were doing; but at least on my part, demonstrating some grief felt obligatory. When my stepmother’s aforementioned friend asked my brother and me how we felt about the divorce, we claimed to be upset about it. However, when my dad asked if we wanted her back, we told him no.

My brother and I actually kept in contact with my stepmother for a few years after the divorce. It wasn’t until we got older that we started to distance ourselves from her. This came as a result of coming to understand that we had, in fact, been abused. As adults, we had come to reassess the experiences we had as children from a more informed perspective, now truly understanding what constitutes abuse.

We didn’t understand what we had experienced from my step-mother was abuse partially because we compared it to our biological mother’s physical abuse and neglect. So our stepmother’s behavior in comparison seemed like normal parenting. I had grown up believing that I was a bad child because my stepmother would find something to yell at us about, bringing me to tears daily. I thought we deserved her wrath, and that her constant outrage towards us, for every minor thing, was justified.

And because conversations about child abuse and mental health were practically non-existent when I was growing up, no one called my stepmother’s behavior out for what it was. As a result, the abuse was normalized. I even thought it was simply how parents disciplined their kids. Emotional abuse is insidious that way though. There don’t seem to be well-defined laws in place that outline what it is. So when there are no specific societal rules outlawing emotionally abusing minors, it is therefore perceived to be legal, and thus normal and acceptable.

This normalcy and consistency of abuse have had consequences for me. I grew up being bullied at home and at school, which left me feeling as if there was something wrong with me. In conflicts, I always assumed I was the one in the wrong. When I am hurt or angry, I invalidate my own feelings. I tell myself that my feelings are not justified. I am being oversensitive, and I shouldn’t feel the way I do. I am uncomfortable with expressing myself emotionally for fear of being shamed. I don’t handle criticism well because my stepmother’s voice lingers in my head, berating me for every mistake I make.

Yes, my stepmother is only human. She was also recovering from addiction, and it’s possible she was raising my brother and me the only way she knew how. It’s also possible she has grown and changed as a person in the many years since she was an active part of my life. However, the biggest benefit to me being an adult is I can control who I keep in my life and who I don’t. I had no such control of my life as a child; rather, I grew up with a constant feeling of helplessness.

All relationships should be beneficial to everybody involved. Keeping people in my life or maintaining a connection with those who have caused me harm does not benefit me. In the years leading up to me blocking her, I had barely concealed my rage anytime my stepmother spoke to me, and only because I thought I owed her that grace. But I’m tired of feeling like I owe my abusers my time, my energy, and my forgiveness. This is my life; ultimately, I decide who I keep in it. And I do not owe anyone who doesn’t or hasn’t served a positive purpose in my life a single damn thing.

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Family Life Stories Life

Years after my Dad’s death, I still feel the guilt in my grief

In December of 2016, my brothers and I made the decision to change my Dad’s status to Do Not Resuscitate. He was in the ICU, he had gone into cardiac arrest twice, both times for over twenty minutes. The doctors had told us that he had endocarditis, a bacterial infection that had deteriorated his cardiac valve to the point where it was leaking and because he had gone untreated for too long, it was inoperable. They told us in no uncertain terms that his condition was hopeless, and that should he survive there was only a twenty percent chance he would not be in a vegetative state. They insisted we change his status to DNR. Despite all that, I still feel the guilt in my grief. I still have not forgiven myself for letting him die.

It’s more than that though, I also feel the guilt for changing after his death. I am not the person he knew, maybe not the person he expected me to be. My values and my ideologies have gradually shifted away from his and what I grew up with. I frequently wonder if he was alive, would we clash? I am proud of my growth as a person, but I hate thinking that part of that change can be attributed to his loss, to my resulting independence. I don’t want there to be a silver lining in his death at all.

And I get that healing is non-linear, and my personal development is part of that healing, while my guilt is a normal phase experienced by the bereaved. Even as I have fluctuated in facing the other stages of anger, denial, depression, acceptance, and bargaining, the guilt in my grief has stayed with me. It has been with me since I went to bed the night he died, vividly remembering his guileless eyes as I left him in the hospital the previous evening after the doctor ordered him to stay the night.

Even as I have fluctuated in facing the other stages of anger, denial, depression, acceptance, and bargaining, the guilt in my grief has stayed with me.

He had been asked by the nurse what he wanted to drink with his meal and he asked me what I wanted, thinking I was going to stay with him. I told him Sprite but soon informed him that I needed to leave because it was getting late and I was tired and there wasn’t much to do just hanging out at the hospital. He seemed okay with that and told me that he loved me and that he would see me tomorrow when my brother and I came back and told me to thank my brother for driving him to the emergency room. I’m glad the last thing I said to him was that I love him. But I have never gotten over the feeling that he had wanted me to stay, and that I should have.

This isn’t unusual. Guilt in grief often sinks in as we recall events surrounding the death of those we lost and we envision how things might have gone differently. My Dad had been severely ill in the month before he died. He vomited for the first time in twenty years and blacked out, and couldn’t stand up without feeling dizzy. He was coughing up phlegm that we later found out was due to pneumonia filling his entire right lung.

I was living alone with him and we were both up until dawn waiting to see if I should drive him to the hospital. He insisted he didn’t need to go, and while it’s easy for me to attribute this to his stubborn nature, part of me worries he simply didn’t want to go because he knew I had severe driving anxiety and the hospital we would go to was further away than I was used to driving. I worry that he was acting out of concern for me and that it cost him his life, as his illness had been left to fester for too long as a result. When I expressed this concern to my brother later, he, perhaps in a moment of absentminded insensitivity, simply responded that maybe that should motivate me to try to get over my driving anxiety. As if to confirm that yes, it was my fault. This is known as causation guilt when people feel guilty that they are responsible for the death because of something they did or didn’t do.

I also feel guilt for the way our relationship had changed in the year prior to his death. I had finished an abroad internship and it was my first time traveling to another country and it sparked the change that led me to who I am today. Before I had gone, I ached at the idea of leaving him since it was my first time living without him. He had been proud of me for landing the internship but was wary of my traveling because he feared for my safety. When I came back, I found myself distancing from him and wanting to move out and find my own place. Sometimes, in my lowest points of self-loathing, I think that him dying was the universe’s way of punishing me for leaving him and trying to strike out on my own. This is referred to as moral guilt when the bereaved party believes that the death of their loved one is a punishment for a previous act.

I’ve got multiple types of guilt in my grief that I’m dealing with, all tangled up in each other and the other feelings related to loss. But I know that it’s a normal part of grieving, and I know that identifying my feelings is one step to addressing the problem. I’m hoping by exploring and discussing these feelings, I can start on the path towards relieving myself of that particular burden, even as I know the grief will never go away because I will never stop loving him.

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Editor's Picks Family Life

My dad made me the woman I am, and I’ll always love him for that

It’s been a running joke in my extended family that you can’t leave me alone in a bookstore, a library, or even near someone’s bookshelf. Chances are, I’ll probably tune you out and make a beeline towards wherever there are books on display. It’s a habit my mom hated (how antisocial of me) and one that my dad loved, and cultivated in both of his children. It’s one of the many habits of his that I’m proud to have picked up. 

When I was growing up, my dad always worked long hours. He’s a doctor who runs his own clinic, which means he either works in four-hour shifts and comes home late at night, or he works a straight shift and I see him in the evening. His one day off is Friday (in Dubai, the weekends are Friday and Saturday, because Friday is the day Muslims go to the mosque). 

So, Friday was the day for errands, chores, meeting family, and catching up on things that needed to be done during the week. His long hours meant I didn’t see him as much as I’d like to, but it also meant the time I did get to spend with him was special. On his days off, he would show me his favorite books and movies, and he would happily encourage my vigorous reading habits. 

I specifically remember my dad giving me the Harry Potter books to read when I was younger. Afterward I then excitedly waited for the new books to subsequently release every year along with him. I also remember him introducing me to his favorite authors—Jeffrey Archer and Arthur Hailey, to name a few— and me following Archer’s newest series with interest because it made me feel closer to my dad. 

I remember feeling sad when my mom eventually threw out my massive Kinder Surprise collection (remember those?). My dad would bring home a set of 3 chocolate eggs every week for me, and I spent hours playing with those little figures and collecting the plastic cups they came in. Over time, I had amassed over 150 toys; however, my mom ended up either giving them away or throwing them in the trash.

To be fair, they took up every inch of my desk, but it was worth it because they were beloved gifts from my father. 

I remember going on trips with my family, and my dad was an incredible swimmer. So it was always fun diving into the sea with him. Swimming with my dad was great, he could do all kinds of water tricks, like handstands and somersaults, and lie flat on the ground of the pool (I unfortunately never got the handle of sinking into the water as he did).

Notably, though, my dad was authoritative; especially when he broke up fights between my brother and me, or when we got into arguments about who I could meet or what I could wear. My dad and I had our ups and downs, but with time, the downs never stuck with me. I later realized he was so strict about my curfew because he was only concerned for me. If I was ever late coming home, he wouldn’t even say anything, but he’d always stay awake to make sure I came home safe. 

My dad was indulgent, too; one way he shows his love is with gifts, which meant I always got the book, or toy, or food, or clothes, that I asked for. It meant that my dad spent long hours at work to provide for us, which he provided us plenty. What he missed out on in time, he made up for in memories and affection.

My dad also supported my career choices, my university choices, and everything in between. He made sure I was free to do what I wanted—and in a Desi society wherein your options regarding a career path are often to become a doctor or a lawyer— it was good to know he had my back. 

When I was worried about what I wanted to do with my career, he looked at me and said, “I’ll support you for as long as it takes, you don’t need to worry about that.” And my dad has kept promise on his word, as he’s paid for our schools, our colleges, our master’s universities, and paid for my brother’s first apartment while letting me stay at home after I graduated (and during the pandemic).

I know he’ll never accept money from either of us because he firmly believes that what he makes is for us. He’s supported my decisions and has made it unequivocally clear— he will always look out for me. What’s even better is I just like spending time with him, whether we’re watching a movie, playing cards, or just spending time at home because he’s a great companion to have in my corner. 

I’ve always had a difficult time voicing my feelings as we’re not an “I love you” family. But we do show our love in a thousand different, smaller ways instead. 

With my family, our love language is through gifts and gestures. It’s through the chocolates my dad bought for me every week; the trips and restaurants he would take us to thanks to pharmaceutical reps; the insane hours he works to provide for all of us, and the efforts he took in teaching me… well, everything. 

So, this one’s for you, Uppa. Even though I don’t verbally articulate my “I love you’s,” just know— I wouldn’t be where or who I am today if it weren’t for you. Thank you for all of your sacrifices, and for putting up with the pains I’ve caused over the years. Ultimately, just thank you for being there for me and our family, no matter what.

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Culture Family Life Stories Life

As a Brown girl, Western media warped my sense of beauty

I may find my childhood pictures embarrassing now, but there was a time, not so very long ago, when 10-year-old Izzah would confidently pose in whatever she was wearing. I was firm in my conviction that I could get whichever white boy band member I had a crush on at the time, to instantly fall head over heels for me.

If you lay out a timeline of all of my pictures ever taken -up until the one I took just before I sat here to write this down- they tell a story of how my confidence in my appearance ebbed and flowed. You would be able to pinpoint exactly when I started idolizing the western beauty ideals perpetuated by content I consumed and people around me.

When you are young and your perception of beauty has not yet been warped by mass media, you tend to primarily associate beauty with love. Your mother is beautiful when she fries a generous handful of samosas for you and asks how your day at school was. Your father is beautiful when he colorfully narrates his childhood to you over a cup of overly sweet chai and you are careful not to burn your tongue. Your Nana Abu is beautiful when he asks about your childhood friend every time you go visit him, you don’t talk to her anymore but hers is the only name he remembers so you tell him she’s doing well. Your brother is beautiful when he splits a Dairy Milk and gives you the bigger half. This innocuous perception of love intersecting with beauty is tarnished over time. The decay in our worldview begins when we are exposed to media telling us beauty can only look a certain way.

The earliest memory I have of not feeling pretty is when I would read about female protagonists who were described as effortlessly gorgeous, with long blonde hair, blue eyes, and a slender figure. I would contrast it to the description of the frumpy side character who was short, chubby, dark-haired, with glasses and crooked teeth. The latter would closely match how I would describe myself as a character in a novel. The awkward-looking side characters would never go on adventures or fall in love or have a compelling personality. They existed solely to make the lead look even better by comparison, and for the longest time as we consumed western media, my friends and I felt like the side characters of our own stories. There were countless movies and TV shows revolving around a predominantly white, conventionally attractive cast. I have vivid memories of sitting in groups at lunchtime, as early as seventh grade, lamenting our heritage. No “oceanic depths” in our eyes and no “golden halos” in our hair, we would talk about the parts of ourselves we would love to change.

The lack of South Asian representation on screen had desi girls trying to contort themselves to live up to white beauty standards. I saw my friends repeatedly give themselves chemical burns in efforts to dye their hair lighter, wear contacts that made their eyes water but their irises appear a stark icy blue, bleach their skin (which was often encouraged by a supportive mother or aunt), and even go as far as to try to lose their Pakistani accent when they conversed in English. Seeing my peers so viciously build barricades over all the roads that could link them to their birth culture and people instilled an inferiority complex in me about my heritage that I had to spend multiple years to unlearn.  I too once dreamed of cutting all ties with my country and for the longest time regretted not being born into a white family.

Body hair was another major facet in my journey of acceptance. Being South Asian I was genetically predisposed to a greater amount of darker, more visible body hair. I was subject to waxing since I was eleven, before which I remember thinking women don’t grow underarm hair, because I had spent all my life having never seen armpit hair on a woman anywhere, from animated characters in TV shows to movies of shipwrecked castaways where the female lead would always be hairless. Even women around me never let themselves wear anything that would show off their body hair in-between waxing sessions, lest they be thought of having “let themselves go”. All this because “log kia kahen gai?”

“What will people say?”

An avid propellant of this beauty ideal has been brown aunties with their unsolicited comments on our appearances, who instill the belief of our self-worth being inherently tied to our appearance from a very tender age. I have a vivid memory of being 10 years old and having a random auntie get in the elevator with me, and proceed to spend the duration of our descent from the 8th Floor of my apartment building asking me what those stains on my face were — freckles, auntie — and start listing off whitening creams with bleaching agents that would help “fix” my face. A 30-second interaction with a total stranger was all it took for me to gain a whole new insecurity.

Being portrayed as the side character and the second choice for decades of cinema really took a toll on the way people of color perceived themselves. Decolonizing my definition of beauty has not been easy, and there are days when I have to actively work to remind myself that my body is just a vessel and my “beauty ideals” are attained by millionaires and celebrities after copious amounts of Facetune and cosmetic surgery. Flaunting these images as normal to expect of puberty, down the throats of impressionable young children, gives girls and boys a warped expectation of what normal bodies and faces look like. Hiring twenty-something actors to play high school children may seem innocuous enough in the moment, but the lasting impact it could have on the body image of the target demographic of a show is often swept under the rug.

Our female ancestors were not able to inherit land, wealth or even pass on their last names to us. It would only take three generations for their ancestry and familial ties to be forgotten completely, their identities dissolved in their marital vows. All we have that ties us to the resolute, tenacious women that came before us, are our features. The pigment of our skin, the folds of our body. We wear our heritage on the crevices of our face, the least we can do is learn to wear it with unapologetic pride.

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Family Life

Healing my relationship with my mother helped give my life meaning

My mother has gone through a lot in her life; whether it’s been health issues, racism in her workplace or misogyny from extended family. Whilst I have always admired her ability to bounce back from any adversity, I do not want to be anything like her. 

Our bond will always be filled with love, but as I grow older and step into my own womanhood, I’ve started reflecting on our relationship and the not-so-happy aspects of it. My mother has spent most of her life in “survival mode”, meaning realism came before romanticism. She never really got to rest in her energy and allow herself to be open up to others. This is not her fault, but I think healing her own inner child should have been done a long time ago. 

Our inner child is an expression of ourselves at all stages in life, rooting back down to honoring the younger version of ourselves who had a vast imagination and always saw the beauty in life. A wounded inner child can manifest itself in various forms such as anger outbursts, lack of boundaries and insecurities. A mother who has not healed can pass on the “mother wound” to her children, so if the mother was critical, pessimistic or unapproving, sabotaging behaviors can manifest within the child. As women, we have a deep intuition connected to our mothers. So if our mother wasn’t able to live her best, most fulfilling life because she always had to make sacrifices, the same wounds can be found in us and left unhealed. 

I am very grateful to have been blessed with a safe childhood with loving parents, however, I think with all daughters, the relationship with their mother can be very difficult at times, especially as we grow up and define womanhood for ourselves. Whilst I am not criticizing my mother and I would not want to change any part of my upbringing, there were moments growing up where she would compare us to her younger self, be overly judgmental in our choices, and dramatize situations without listening first. As I am growing older, I am learning that our relationship might be a bit different from when I was younger, but I will always love her. Even if we have not had any major physical or emotional trauma within our lives, healing our inner child is something that everyone needs to practice as they move into adulthood in order to be fully at peace. 

The past few months, I have been practicing intense shadow work and self-love as a step towards peace of mind, removing the constant need for external validation, asserting my boundaries and learning where my jealousy comes from. However, trying to heal and feel content in an environment where the people around you are dissatisfied with their own lives can be tricky. I’ve learned that the key is to not let my faith in living a fulfilling life filled with art, joy and wonder be destroyed by those without any faith. This is not an attack towards my mother, but rather me saying that I forgive her. I forgive her for her outlook on life because I understand where these ideas have come from, but if I need to put some distance between us in this present moment, that is okay. 

To help you understand the dynamic, my mother and I would often disagree on what I decide to do with my future, defining our femininity or our views on religion. It became very difficult to be able to share parts of my life with her when I felt as though every conversation was a battle. There are times when I felt as though I couldn’t talk to her about big issues going on because it would turn into a larger argument, or she wouldn’t listen to everything. 

Perhaps I am still young and naïve, but I truly believe that we have been put on this Earth to create art, and then give it away to others. To live, and feed our soul with the wonders of the world, not just exist. At the end of the day, I will become everything God wants me to become, not what my mother wants me to become, and I try immensely hard to fulfill my dreams knowing that. 

Slowly, I am learning that our identity is constantly changing, and it is okay to perceive ourselves differently from what people have expected of us. Maybe I do have the privilege of being a romantic because I am not the child of immigrants, like my parents, but I do believe that it is possible to shatter the “glass ceiling”. Each day is an opportunity to expand the definition of who we are. 

I am taking this time to allow myself to heal, forgive my mother for the bumps in our relationship and redefine my life the way I want.

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Family Gender & Identity Life

The expectations of modern society are burdensome for many women

Ever feel like a lot of phone conversations between women recently hinge on who is busier? The incessant playdates, the overwhelming workload that seems to have doubled during quarantine, and the various social commitments. So, one person talks about how they haven’t slept properly in months and the other counters by telling us how she’s managing 4 projects. This continues until you hang up. I call this the struggles of modern women. The ridiculous expectations to always excel.

When I was younger, I remember teatime afternoons sitting outside chatting to my family. Teatime was sacred and could sometimes last hours. Now I barely see my kids for more than a few hours and in between those I’m still either working, disciplining them or trying to squeeze in some educational lessons to share with them. We’re never just relaxing.

So what changed? I think there are a few factors that contributed to this.

Social media

Modern technology can be a bit of a curse. Suddenly we’re privy to what everyone is up to, any time of the day. You see the superwomen managing their multiple roles with so much ease. You see the career women thriving in their respective jobs. The crafters knitting blankets for their kids. The home bakers making batch after batch of broccoli muffins that I can’t even follow the recipe of. Everyone is excelling, whereas I feel like I’m drowning half the time. When did perfection become such a prerequisite?

The fight for emancipation

I, like many women today, am done with notions of subjugation. I know that I wasn’t raised to be dependent on a man and I have actively tried to be an equal partner. However, the responsibilities of women haven’t changed. We’re still, for the most part, the primary caretakers, just because men are still earning more. Schools still reach out to moms first and kids turn to us for their needs. So, in essence, even though our roles have expanded, the other responsibilities haven’t eased up.

There are certainly more opportunities for us now than there were for my mother or grandmother. I now know that I can be a multi-faceted individual. However, in this struggle to be better, and explore more, I’m now a headless chicken. I want to be fitter because it signifies discipline. I want to read more because it allows me to have a different worldview. I want to work harder so I can grow in my career, and so on. As we grow, the expectations from modern women increase as well. But when does it stop? When do we realize that we’ve reached the end of our tether and some expectations are just not realistic?

We’re still struggling to get the recognition we deserve  

I think the success of women is celebrated a lot more now than before. However, we still need to talk louder, work harder and longer, to get the same level of acknowledgment. I know that if I ever let something slip, people will blame me for playing the “woman card.” However, if a man slips up, he’s just having a bad day. We continuously need to hold ourselves together, never let the mask slip and keep going because letting one juggling ball drop means it all falls apart. After all, a modern woman needs to have it together right?

I’m happy at the pace women are moving. I love seeing my peers succeed, excel, reach high-level posts. But I also see expectations from us rise and the roles multiply, as we struggle to keep up. We’re expected to be role models for our kids, always-indulgent partners, level-headed workaholics, passionate hobbyists and above all excellent multitaskers. But is this realistic? Will modern women ever be allowed the same level of leniency that men are? I hope so, because somedays I’m barely holding my head above the water, but I’m smiling because no one likes a whiner.

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Family Life

Black parents too often disguise abuse as discipline

Every so often on social media, conversations arise comparing Black parenting styles to white ones, and I’ve noticed an unsettling pattern. It seems what Black people tend to associate with Black parenting styles is negative or downright abusive characteristics: disregarding their children’s boundaries, corporal punishment, and humiliation. Conversely, Black people often associate white parenting styles with kind forms of nurturing: effectively listening to their children, being understanding, offering empathy, and respecting their children’s boundaries. 

However, as accurately stated in an article for BBC, “Many black parents identify the refusal to spank as “white,” viewing white parents as too permissive and not in proper control of their children, especially in public spaces.” Notably, a few years back, it was even a common occurrence to see Black parents publicly humiliating their children as a form of discipline for all of social media to see.

In fact, statistics prove Black parents do tend to be considerably harsher with punishing their children, and there is some historical context to be explored as to why. Black parenting methods are a reflection of the harm and abuse we experienced during slavery. In turn, Black parents often discipline their kids in similar ways plantation owners abused enslaved people.

The use of corporal punishment on children is not reflective of pre-colonial West African practices; rather, it is a demonstration of religious European beliefs that people are born innately sinful. So, parents felt they had to beat the sin out of children

Now, however, Black parents strongly believe beating children into behavioral correction can save them from the dangers Black kids are likely to face outside of their homes. Even though, the idea that you can beat a human being into submission or into performing good behavior directly correlates with the institutional practices of slavery.

Correspondingly, America’s refusal to directly address the harm slavery has had on the Black community causes Black people to continue internalizing trauma without any healthy outlet to properly heal. This cycle of unchecked trauma, which is now arguably an inherent aspect of Blackness stemming from slavery, ultimately comes at the expense of Black children. 

The idea that spanking can effectively correct children’s behavior is not supported by facts or statistical evidence. Consequently, the practice of spanking in the Black community is continued for two reasons: firstly, I suspect the use of corporal punishment on Black kids provides Black parents a feeling of superiority or control they don’t have outside of their household.

Secondly, Black parents are trying and failing to save or prepare their kids from the repercussions of living in a racist society. This notion is seemingly well-intentioned. However, it normalizes abuse as a form of love, furthering the cycle of trauma in a manner more subdue. 

Racism partly thrives off convincing Black parents to forcefully get Black kids to conform to white supremacy. This is supported in a newsletter article for the American Psychological Association (APA). Dr. Stacey Patton examines how racial trauma has influenced Black parent’s use of corporal punishment. The article explains how the American slave trade purposefully targeted African youth.

As a result, kids that grew up in enslavement became adults and “were under tremendous pressure to shape their [own] children into docile field workers and to teach them proper deference and demeanor in front of whites,” Patton states. So are born familiar phrases like “this hurts me more than it hurts you:” a phrase commonly used by Black parents to justify their perpetuation (whether intentional or not) of abuse. 

Dr. Patton also wrote a compelling article for the New York Times detailing her own experience with the negative effects of corporal punishment. Because of the abuse she endured, Dr. Patton ran away at 12-years-old, ending up in foster care. As an adult, she came to realize the direct harm beatings had on her as a child and had to spend part of her adulthood unpacking her trauma in therapy.

Henceforth, the current generation of Black youth must break cyclical family trauma for the sake of our own kids and our kid’s kids. With modern studies coupled with the ability to have nuanced, cultural conversations on social media, we can now understand that spankings and humiliation tactics have been historically harmful to Black children.

Black trauma is cyclical. Therefore, going forward, the way we as a community can remedy those toxic perceptions of Black parenting is by recognizing the trauma of our past and present, regarding both our lineage and personal childhood experience.

We must be the generation of parents that recognize beating Black kids into good behavior benefits no one. It’s on us to change the narrative surrounding Black parenting to be something universally positive and leave this cycle of trauma in the past. To ensure future generations of Black kids can have a healthy and nurturing development as all children deserve.

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Culture Family Life

How oppressive life expectations continues to burden my twenties

I was six-years-old the first time someone asked me what I wanted to be in life. I still remember my answer. I want to be a fairy-princess bus driver, I responded. Notably, I said that with full confidence, and of course I earned some laughs; but what was I supposed to say? A data scientist? I didn’t know any better. All I knew was that I liked fairies and princesses and all the bus drivers I had ever met back then were lovely. So, I just combined them all. However, I was told by the adults around me that my intelligence was far beyond aspiring to be a mythical being or an “ordinary” bus driver. I could be anything, they said. 

And that definitely stressed me out. 

I began to stress because I started to internalize how there was always so much expected from me at a young age. Though, the inclination of my future career endeavors mostly came from my extended family members rather than my parents. My sharp tongue was apparently unusual for a girl to have in Bangladeshi culture, so I was suddenly destined to become the family lawyer, according to members of my family.

At the same time, I was also really good at art, so they suggested I should become an architect. But how could I forget to mention my love of technology, which led to everyone believing I would be the first female engineer in the family. To sum up my point, there were a lot of expectations pinned on me and it was not enjoyable being on the receiving end of other people’s projections. Especially while combining all the impossible expectations I already had for myself. 

After realizing that a fairy-princess bus driver was not quite a plausible career path, I started looking into other options. I’ve always loved fashion. Even now, I would love to be a fashion designer. That dream diminished, however, when my weight was pointed out by those whose counsel and advice I sought out regarding how to make my dream a reality as well as how difficult it is to join the industry without the proper funds. 

So, I changed career projections again. When I was eight, I then realized my love for writing and wanted to become a journalist. But I quickly went through another change of career option when I found that I did, in fact, want to be an engineer. I loved machines, whether it was taking them apart or learning the inner mechanics of how they worked. I adored learning about machines, just not science- the very lessons I needed to take on engineering at a degree level.

What did I want to be next? Well, I’m an artsy soul; in turn, I wanted to be a graphic designer. I did graphic design at A-Level and enjoyed it very much. Although, what I didn’t enjoy was my graphics teacher who would constantly put me down for my preferred style of art by calling it “gothic” and “outdated.” All of which, brought me back to my love of writing, the one thing that has never failed me. I went to a university to receive a BA in English Literature and Creative Writing and an MA in International Journalism.

However, what differing career burdens mimicked from childhood haunt me into adulthood? Finding a job. 

I’m more than aware that being an intelligible young girl came as a shock to many members of my extended family who never, unfortunately, had the chance to complete their education. Perhaps that is the reason they pinned all their hopes and dreams onto me. However, I somewhat feel like I missed out on various aspects of my childhood because I was too busy trying to find what could make me become the “greatest” or “most accomplished” kid in the family.

What’s worse is that I can feel the repetition from my childhood of trying to choose a solid and lucrative career path happening in my twenties. And while I should now be having fun trying to figure life out, most days I stay away from friends and family, applying to job after job and slipping deeper into anxiety. I also know I’m not the only one who feels like this. A friend I have, who is around 3-years older than me, is going through the same thing I am. One of my acquaintances is stuck in a job she doesn’t enjoy simply because it pays the bills.

I can’t speak for other cultures, but here’s what I know about Bangladeshi culture: girls, particularly ambitious ones, must have their lives sorted out by 25 with a job, orderly finances, and assets, etc. After that, according to our elders, we get old and no man will ever want us. I’ve heard people use ‘expiry date’ when a woman ages because she faces the possibility of being less fertile. What on earth is a woman without a family? Well, every bit still a woman.

The non-progressive Bangladeshi mentality pushes women to have achieved everything they must in order to be successful by their mid-twenties, so they can spend the rest of their lives pleasing their spouse and his family. So many of us spend so much time and energy worrying about how time is slipping through our fingertips. As a result, the vast majority of us then feel as though our twenties were just a blur of tears and failure.  

Although my parents do not push me to live with these oppressive life burdens, I can’t help but feel the pressure radiating off of my extended family members. Even my friends sometimes voice their concerns for me and my future projections in life. Sadly, even though I am not physically forced to stay in this trap of life insecurity at such a young age, I remain here as a part of the tradition.

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Family Gender & Identity Life

Hey working women, feeling overwhelmed by your second shift?

For many working women, a nine to five workday is merely a fantasy. So much work is done before nine and after five such as changing diapers, washing dishes, cooking meals, setting tables, and more. Yet, as we know, this isn’t the kind of work that translates into GDP figures or economic output. Rather, the aforementioned chores are considered the private duties of women. Consequently, far too many women in M|F couples spend their after-work hours toiling away in a vicious cycle of thankless labor.

Across varying cultures globally, it has been estimated that on average, women spend twice as much time on household work as men and four times as much time on childcare. 

Scholars in past decades have studied the lives of working women, both in the professional and domestic sector. They’ve termed the phenomenon of women’s over-extending labor, on and off the clock, the “double work burden” or otherwise, “the second shift.” Unlike women’s professional jobs, which may also have their own difficulties due to workplace misogyny or lack of equal pay, their “second shift” at home is not compensated. As a result, working women are crushed under the weight of this invisible labor, which is hardly ever acknowledged and rarely appreciated. 

So where did this inequality originate?

The “double shift” phenomenon is based on stereotypical gender roles: men are the hardworking breadwinners while women are child-bearers and homemakers due to their inherently “nurturing” nature. Now, however, the gendered division of labor fails to serve as an efficient economic system

Previously, women used to mostly cater to domestic responsibilities because they were not permitted to work outside of their household. Men, on the other hand, were tasked with wealth accumulation for their family unit. However, since World War II, the global economy has seen an exponential rise in working women. Therefore, social and economic institutions should also evolve in correspondence to the progressing societal role of women.

In many cultures, such as mine, it is believed that men are still primary breadwinners, since only two-thirds of women are employed in the workforce, and women only bring additional income to the family. In such cases, it is thought that men are not to participate in domestic chores because they bear the sole responsibility of being “providers.”

But for a minute consider a couple that works equally. In that case, do men step up and take charge of household duties? Not so much. According to research conducted by PEW, about half of parents in households wherein both the mother and the father work full time say, in their family, the mother does more in terms of managing the children’s schedules and activities.

The social construction of gender roles is such that it projects women as inherently domesticated individuals who are more than willing to undertake household responsibilities. For example, most household and cleaning products are advertised to women. This is because capitalistic, patriarchal structures simply expect women to undertake housework in lieu of the males within the home.

And sadly these advertisements also depict daughters helping mothers, whereas the sons and fathers of the family aren’t shown participating in traditional household chores. These frequent portrayals of only having women acting out tasks and chores within the house, risk perpetuating these stigmas onto future generations of women. 

On another note, the idea that household chores are “labors of love” gifted for the entire family on behalf of mothers, has debilitating consequences for the mental and physical health of women. Women, on average, lose up to thirteen hours of sleep per month due to fulfilling domestic duties. 

Additionally, if you are a working woman and feel you don’t endure the second shift because of financial privilege, check again. Even if you have delegated household help or staff of nannies and cooks, consider who is managing your employees. Who trains the staff, orders groceries for the family, or manages the finances at home? Even the seemingly simple task of managing household chores takes up ample mental space- which is what feminists refer to as “the mental load.”

Ultimately, the double work burden is a by-product of oppressive gender roles coupled with capitalistic evaluations of labor and value outcomes. Sometimes, demanding household chores are more physically demanding and emotionally draining than office work. But somehow, the household chores is the work rarely appreciated.

Why? Probably because there is no economic compensation for household chores nor does capitalism value work that doesn’t benefit the economy. Just think about the amount of money that is saved by women undertaking tasks that would otherwise be costly, such as caring for sick family members. Many countries don’t even invest in social care; instead, these countries completely bank on women to do domestic work.

[Image Description: A tweet by Bridgie Casey, reposted by the Indian Feminist.] via Instagram
Working women, next time you find yourself stuck in the oppressive monotony of household chores, please know that you are not alone. Many women around the world feel and relate to the weight of domestic chores on top of working full-time. So, if no one has told you already, the work you do is, in fact, valuable and very much appreciated!

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Culture Family Gender & Identity Life

This is my open letter of appreciation to my mother

When I was growing up in Dubai, I often butted heads with my mother – she was stubborn, and so was I. From curfews to outfits, we had our fair share of fights and disagreements. My childhood was a mix of entertainment and challenges. With so many family members and a thriving religious community, it felt like I was watched almost constantly, and that kind of monitoring felt stifling. I longed to break free, but my mom would admonish me – ‘what would the others think?’ Part of me wanted to tell off these “others”, let them know I didn’t care what they thought. I always tried to be my own person, while still trying to succeed in the real world. 

My mother’s own childhood was rich but stifling. My grandfather was a successful businessman and religious leader, meaning. she had similar situations of constant monitoring by her community in Kerala, India, where she grew up. Consequently, my mother internalized a lot of religious and community ideals. Married at 20, my mom was forced to drop out of college and accompanied my dad, a doctor, to Dubai – a then empty, sandy desert town with almost nothing to offer, with two kids in tow.

She spent the next 10-11 years as a housewife to two children who constantly argued, and taking care of a home, with a husband who spent most of his waking hours at a clinic. When I turned 8, my mother started working as a saleswoman to try and bring in some extra money.

My mother would often come home after work to a crying little girl, an angry little boy, and loads of housework. Despite not having a bachelor’s degree, her head for numbers led her past sales and into real estate. She got her real estate license and began climbing up, eventually becoming the manager of a real estate company in Dubai.

My dad let her manage the family’s finances – which meant that suddenly, we started doing well! She invested in property, in stocks, created portfolios, all while continually making real estate transfers and growing to become a popular real estate agent. By the time I turned 15, my mom became a successful manager and real estate owner. 

Having spent time in college, away from the family, helped me get a new perspective.

My mother wasn’t the controlling, bossy woman I made her out to be, but rather a self-starter. She was someone who had almost nothing and made enough money to buy houses in an expensive city. The best part? She’s more open-minded than I give her credit for. Her concern over the community was because she was raised in a small town and had a popular, ever-looming father. When we travel, she lets me be free – even when I went to college, she didn’t hover or ask what I wore or when I came home – in fact, she only would call about once a month, to check up on me.

She’s accepted my irreligious nature. She’s proud of my talents despite them not being STEM-related. She hasn’t forced or coerced me to get married, despite her own history. She’s happy and successful.

My mom went from being a housewife with a high school degree to being a popular real estate owner. She’s the one who encourages me to learn about money, about investments. She’s the one who taught me how to save when I freelanced in college. She’s the best example I’ve seen of ‘if you work hard, you can make it’. 

Of course, we still have our fights, but I remember where she came from, how she managed to shed so many preconceived notions. I remember how she let me be my own person and have my own life, while still continually supporting me. This is for you, mom. Even though I may not act like it sometimes, I’m really proud to be your daughter. 

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Family Gender & Identity Life

I don’t want children and there’s nothing wrong with that

Have you ever noticed that when you hit early adulthood, the assumption of children isn’t a question of if, but when? If you haven’t dealt with that dilemma, then you are one lucky chap. The question of children always hounded me, whether it was in more direct statements of ‘well, when you have children, you’ll know how they are’, to more indirect hints like, ‘wow, you’re so good with your baby niece/nephew!’ or, ‘you know how to handle babies well’. 

Looking at the world today, it’s easy to see why women don’t want to have children. Climate change is quickly making many parts of the world uninhabitable. The wage gap is ever-present, making it difficult for single women to earn enough money to support children.

Studies have shown that climate change and deforestation can contribute to more pandemics in the future. It’s more difficult than ever to raise a child in such a chaotic, confusing world.  These disasters are not isolated incidents. They are the result of a culmination of choices made, and it will take decades of change to stop them. I’m afraid for my own future, for my own health; how could I bring a helpless child into this? 

 It’s also unfair to assume that people who don’t have children are being selfish.

Child-free people have more time to contribute to their communities. They also have more resources for charitable and volunteer efforts. Child-free couples help contribute as teachers, counselors, and mentors. Being child-free doesn’t mean we don’t care about the future. Rather, the goal is to ensure a collective future, a cohesive group to rely on. 

To couples that choose to be parents, I applaud you. Raising a child is difficult, and children are vital to the future. Some couples enjoy having children for the unique challenges that they pose. I know I find being with children fascinating because of how intelligent, quick, and sponge-like they are – particularly in the early years. Children are difficult to raise, but it’s also satisfying to see children learn how the world works. It can be particularly rewarding to see children understand particular lessons, or figure out how things are.

To the women that choose to not have children, I applaud you as well.

Being forced into having children results in dissatisfaction and unhappiness for the parents and children alike. Parenthood is often seen as the norm, and being shamed into having children can be detrimental to your and your child’s mental health. 

The part that scares me the most about raising children is how quickly they learn, and how fragile they are. I remember insults or barbed comments from adults when I was a child, yet they might have forgotten it the next day. I remember arguments with my parents decades later. I’ve internalized some comments that my mother may have made off-hand; for me, they cut deep. I’m afraid of losing my patience with a child and unwittingly scarring them. I’m afraid of taking a misstep and having them hate me for it. I know I’ve harbored ill-will towards my parents growing up. I realize now that they were doing their best, and I don’t have half the patience and care that they did.

I’m afraid I won’t be able to step up. I may not suffer, but my child will, and I can’t have that on my conscience. At the end of the day, I may not be able to provide for my child, and I can’t bear that thought. I’d much rather regret not having children, than regret having them.

A child-free lifestyle isn’t a selfish one. Having children alone doesn’t prove a woman’s worth. The idea that a woman’s worth is innately linked to motherhood is toxic and dangerous.  As a result, it removes the idea of women dedicating their time to the community without being mothers. I’m glad I can exercise my choice in having children or not, and knowing that there are other women like me who are ready to change the world to provide for future generations, even if they’re not mothers.

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Culture Family Race Life

As a mixed-race person, I struggle with Racial Imposter Syndrome

I have always been the type that seeks to discover myself deeply. This includes looking at my ancestry and the cultures that have formed me. As a mixed-race person, that has proven difficult. In South Africa, I fall under the racial group, Coloured, which was created during Apartheid. Coloured people have mixed European, African, and Asian ancestry due to the mixing of colonial settlers, the enslaved, and native peoples. Coloured communities have their own culture that has risen out of a rich multi-racial heritage. It is ambiguous and heterogeneous in terms of skin color, language, religion, and culture. 

However, I have always found myself in search of my roots. What type of European or African ancestry do I have? What are the different cultures that am I connected to? These questions plague my mind as I search for who I am. 

Already, due to the multi-ethnic roots of being Coloured, I find myself in-between Black and white.  A very specific marginalized status that many Coloured people feel. This is not only a complex experience of race that informs my identity and belonging in the world at large. But to complicate things I also experience a sense of profound displacement from my maternal heritage. My mother, who is half-Coloured and half-Indian, doesn’t have a relationship with her father. As a result, I have never been exposed to or had a personal connection to Indian culture. 

However, I find myself longing for the culture and heritage I have never personally experienced. But can I claim Indian culture as my own? I know that my heritage assumes that I can, but I feel like an impostor when I try to immerse myself in the culture I have no personal relation to. 

I often cook with Indian spices to get a taste of how my aunties’ foods may have tasted. I delved into Ayurveda, an ancient Indian medicine system, to discover how my ancestors would heal themselves. I was drawn to Buddhism and Indian philosophy which felt like an extension of my own thoughts. I watch Indian TV shows and Bollywood films to capture a glimpse into a world that is so foreign to me. 

These seemingly small acts are the leaps I take to feel closer to my heritage. Yet, I feel unaccepted and excluded from it.

I stumbled upon the term Racial Impostor Syndrome, which describes the feelings that biracial or mixed-race people experience as they exist in the intersection of different cultures and identities. We often feel like we are frauds or impostors in the races we are mixed with. For example, someone may be white-passing, but half-white and half-Black, and feel that they can’t claim Black culture as their own. Or for me, it is seen in my distinct hesitation to wear a sari, fearing that I will be told I do not belong. 

The inconsistencies in the social construction of race are evident when mixed-race people find themselves in the in-between spaces of culture, identity, and belonging. We are proof of the fickleness of race yet the importance of the cultural and social implications that are linked to it.

I often wonder if I will ever fully embrace all the racial parts that make me up. I just hope that one day I will be given the space by society to explore my racial heritage and celebrate all of its beautiful parts. 

Please donate to the District Six Museum in Cape Town, South Africa that has been heavily impacted financially by the COVID-19 pandemic. The District Six Museum has been a center for commemorating South African history, including Coloured history. It is an important part of our community and cherishing our heritage. 

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